Why Michael Cohen Is a Triple Threat for Donald Trump

Business deals, affairs, Russia ties—the president’s former fixer knows all.

This marks what promises to be a decisive moment in not only the Trump-Russia scandal but all the Trump scandals (known and unknown), for Cohen appears to have been involved in almost every aspect of Trump’s deeds and misdeeds.

.. With Cohen blowing the whistle, Mueller and other prosecutors will end up with a symphony of leads. After all, he likely has inside information on each of the three rings of the Trump scandal circus:

  1. the Russia affair,
  2. the business affairs,
  3. the affairs affair.

.. Make a Venn diagram of all this, and Cohen is dead center. This ex-consigliere poses a triple threat to the godfather he once ruthlessly served

.. Let’s start with Russia. Cohen intersects with the known narrative in at least two ways. He was there when Trump cut a deal with Russian oligarch Aras Agalarov and his pop-star son Emin to hold the Miss Universe contest in Moscow in 2013. When Trump gathered with the Agalarovs in Las Vegas in June 2013 to formalize their partnership, Cohen accompanied the celebrity businessman and was part of a celebratory dinner at a high-end restaurant. That is, Cohen was present at the creation of the bond forged between Trump and this Putin-friendly oligarch. (Also in attendance was an Agalarov associate who had been linked to Russian money laundering.) This could well be significant for investigators because it was the Trump-Agalarov connection that led to the now notorious Trump Tower meeting on June 9, 2016—when Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort, then the campaign chairman, met with a Russian emissary whom they were told would provide them dirt on Hillary Clinton as part of a secret Kremlin plot to help Trump.

.. When the meeting became public in July 2017, Trump Jr. released a statement falsely claiming that the meeting merely had covered Russian adoption policy. Trump’s involvement in the drafting of that inaccurate statement has been a key issue.

.. In January, Trump’s lawyers sent a letter to Mueller noting that Trump had dictated his son’s response. This raised the question of whether Trump Jr. had lied to a Senate committee when he previously said during private congressional testimony that his father had not played a vital role in concocting the statement.

.. But this letter also highlighted other potential problems for Trump: Did he lie when he publicly said he had no prior knowledge of the meeting, and did he direct potential witnesses in the Mueller investigation to stick to a false cover story? Meaning, did the president engage in obstruction of justice? 

.. While Trump was trying to pull off this project, he said nothing in public about the venture and campaigned as an “America First” nationalist candidate. Throughout this stretch, Trump consistently refused to criticize Russian leader Vladimir Putin, without telling voters that he was pursuing a Moscow project that Sater told Cohen would be underwritten by a bank partially owned by the Kremlin.
.. Given that the project would not proceed if the Russian government said nyet, this was a stunning conflict of interest—perhaps one of the most scandalous personal financial conflicts of modern US political history.
.. he certainly is familiar with the details of the hush-money deals set up for porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal, who each claim they had an affair with Trump. One critical question is whether these payments were made to keep the women quiet because their revelations could harm Trump’s electoral chances.
.. For investigators zeroing in on the keep-quiet payoffs, Cohen is the man.
.. Trump’s reputation as a businessman is not one of probity and prudence. He has long had—and lied about—business connections to organized crime.
.. In 2010, the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., opened an investigation into whether Trump, Trump Jr., and Ivanka Trump had committed fraud related to the selling of units in Trump SoHo, a 46-story luxury condominium-hotel.
In 2012, the probe was dropped. Vance had received campaign donations from Trump’s personal lawyer, but he has claimed that had no bearing on the case.
..  A sketchy deal that Trump began in 2014 to develop a Trump Hotel in Baku, Azerbaijan, may have violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
.. As a friend of Cohen points out, Cohen “worked in an environment that was total chaos. People were constantly running in and out of Trump’s office. The man had a 30-second attention span. Everyone knows everything. Everyone is talking. And there are no secrets.”
.. In the middle of Hurricane Donald, Cohen was as close to the mast as anyone. He may well know of Trump actions deserving of investigation that prosecutors for Mueller and the US attorney in New York have never taken a gander at.
If Cohen ends up a cooperative witness, one question will be how far federal prosecutors want to—or are willing to—dig into Trump’s business. A whole new terrain could be wide open for exploration.
.. a lawyer who worked for the Trump Organization told an acquaintance of mine, “My job boils down to doing two things. First there is this: I say, ‘Mr. Trump, you can’t do that. You really can’t do that, Mr. Trump.’ Then I say, ‘Mr. Trump, why did you do that?’” Cohen was not that type of attorney. He was the handyman who came in after one of the regular lawyers had gone through those two steps—a Mr. Fix-it for a rule-bending executive.
.. Cohen has been compared by some to John Dean, the Nixon White House lawyer who eventually testified that Nixon was in on the Watergate cover-up and who became a quasi-hero of that scandal.
.. No doubt, Lanny Davis is advising Cohen on how best to rehabilitate himself and change his image from a sleazy pit bull who was willing to do anything for Trump (even take a bullet!) to a repentant henchman who now is eager to serve the truth.
But if Dean was a torpedo that sank Nixon, Cohen is more an aircraft carrier. He probably has ammunition that can strike multiple Trump targets. His cooperation with prosecutors could dramatically reshape and perhaps expand the Trump investigations. He is someone that Trump ought to fear. There likely are bodies buried in Trumpland, and if you want to raise the dead, Cohen is the guy to see.

Harvey Weinstein’s Arrest May Define Manhattan D.A.’s Legacy

He made a name as the scourge of men who traffic in underage prostitutes and reduced the national backlog of untested rape-evidence kits. But he also faced withering criticism for dropping the prosecution of a French politician on sexual assault charges in 2011 and steadily mounting outrage over his decision in 2015 that there was a lack of sufficient evidence to make a case against Mr. Weinstein, the movie producer.

.. Sexual assault cases are notoriously challenging to prove in court

.. Mr. Vance’s office will face a long legal battle against a wealthy defendant and one of the city’s best defense lawyers, who will spare no effort to portray Mr. Weinstein as someone who behaved badly but did not break the law

.. The prosecution will have to prove Mr. Weinstein used physical force or threats of harm to get what he wanted, a high bar in cases with little or no physical evidence.

.. prosecutors have said the attack occurred in Manhattan more than five years ago — a gap in time that creates an additional hurdle for prosecutors.

.. there was grumbling among advocates for rape victims about his office’s grueling questioning of women raped by acquaintances before an arrest was made.

.. Several critics, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid antagonizing prosecutors, said the questioning of rape victims in Manhattan was unnecessarily harsh.

.. Former members of the sex crimes unit said it is standard procedure to rigorously vet a victim’s credibility to avoid surprises at trial. “You better know everything that might come out,” one said. “It’s not personal.”
.. the police closed proportionately fewer rape cases in Manhattan than other boroughs, but prosecutors had a high conviction rate.
.. Mr. Weinstein had hired Elkan Abramowitz, a friend and campaign donor to Mr. Vance, to represent him and had paid for private investigators to dig up information about her statements in the Italian case.
.. Some critics in the Police Department said Mr. Vance had become gunshy of taking on powerful men after being forced to drop a sexual-assault charge in 2011 against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund
.. the Weinstein case fed an impression that Mr. Vance’s office gave the wealthy preferential treatment.
.. Public defenders pointed out poor defendants are often arrested and charged with forcible touching on nothing more than a woman’s complaint. “They are prosecuting our black and brown clients on sex crimes with far less,” said Justine M. Luongo
.. Advocates for rape victims have met repeatedly with Mr. Vance and his top lieutenants, demanding that Ms. Bashford and her assistants adopt more modern, less confrontational interview techniques for sexual assault victims, which take into account that trauma often scrambles memories.
They also urged prosecutors to employ more expert witnesses to explain why women sometimes do not fight with their attackers or report rapes right away.
.. Mr. Vance and his team hope more women will come forward now that Mr. Weinstein has been arrested. Some of the older cases in which he cannot be charged may yet come into play too, as evidence of a pattern of behavior.

“Sexual predators are now on notice: No one is too rich or too powerful to fall,” said Susan Ossorio, the president of National Organization for Women-New York City. “What’s happening now is bigger than this case. Harvey Weinstein’s arrest really represents an era of new accountability.”

For Weinstein, a Brush With the Police, Then No Charges

As the police and prosecutors investigated the model’s allegations, the movie mogul set in motion a team of top-shelf defense lawyers and publicists to undermine her credibility.

.. Stories questioning her motives popped up in the tabloids with anonymous sources. Mr. Weinstein’s team even enlisted the help of a former Manhattan sex crimes prosecutor turned novelist with influential ties.

.. In the end, the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., announced he would not press charges. Once the criminal case was closed, Mr. Weinstein silenced Ms. Battilana with a substantial payment.

.. The case demonstrates how Mr. Weinstein, with ample funds and influence, was able to assemble a counterstrike against the sex crime investigation using the weapons available to the powerful. It also highlights the challenges such cases pose, even for the vaunted Manhattan district attorney’s office

.. The case demonstrates how Mr. Weinstein, with ample funds and influence, was able to assemble a counterstrike against the sex crime investigation using the weapons available to the powerful. It also highlights the challenges such cases pose, even for the vaunted Manhattan district attorney’s office

.. Mr. Vance, who is running unopposed for a third term, said the evidence was not strong enough to win a conviction, despite the audio recording. “If we had a case that we felt we could prosecute — that my experts felt we could prosecute — we would have,” he said.

.. As his tone grew belligerent, a detective, concerned for Ms. Battilana’s safety, intervened. Pretending to be a reporter from TMZ, he loudly badgered Mr. Weinstein for an interview, causing enough of a scene for Mr. Weinstein to retreat from the hallway, investigators said.

Once they were back downstairs, Ms. Battilana slipped out a side door, and Mr. Weinstein was once again confronted by a detective. This time, the detective made it known he was from law enforcement, and that the police wanted to talk to him.

.. The Times found that in at least seven other cases, he had quietly made payments to female accusers in exchange for their silence

.. Mr. Weinstein, meanwhile, appeared determined to stay as far away from court as possible. He denied any wrongdoing and quickly retained Elkan Abramowitz, a former law partner of Mr. Vance, as well as Daniel S. Connolly, another former prosecutor turned white-collar defense lawyer.

.. Linda Fairstein, a former Manhattan sex crimes prosecutor who had once written an article in Vanity Fair about her dream of doing a movie deal with Mr. Weinstein, agreed to consult. She was a close friend of Martha Bashford, head of the district attorney’s sex crimes bureau, and facilitated an introduction for Mr. Abramowitz.

.. “Calling Ms. Bashford to tell her who Elkan was and to ask her to consider meeting with him is the kind of thing I do four to six times every year,” said Ms. Fairstein, who said she had determined Ms. Battilana’s complaint was unfounded.

.. The influential public relations strategist, Ken Sunshine, known for his bare-knuckled tactics, put out statements on Mr. Weinstein’s behalf. And the tabloids ran stories suggesting she was selling her story for $100,000 and had tried to use the groping allegation to blackmail him. Mr. Weinstein planted stories to sow doubts about her credibility, said someone familiar with the efforts who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

.. “These types of matters are considered in two forums; one is the court of law, but probably the more important forum is the court of public opinion,” said Mr. Heller, who represented Ms. Battilana for a few days before being replaced by another lawyer, David Godosky. “They tried to spin an opinion in court of public opinion in a way that would break her down and make her go away.”

.. It arrived several years after Mr. Vance had drawn criticism for the way he handled a case involving another powerful man, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, who was accused of sexual assault of a hotel maid in 2011.

.. In the case of Mr. Weinstein, police recording equipment had failed, but Ms. Battilana had captured the entire conversation on her telephone, including his admission that he had grabbed her breasts, investigators said. Security cameras had caught video of Ms. Battilana leaving Mr. Weinstein’s office looking distraught

.. Ms. Battilana had gotten Mr. Weinstein to acknowledge that he had touched her breasts, but she had not brought up her claim that he put his hand up her skirt. Prosecutors saw this as a problem, the officials said.

.. Mr. Vance could have moved forward with the case. “The idea that Weinstein’s criminal intent was unprovable because of his stated ‘professional need’ to personally inspect her breasts doesn’t pass the laugh test,”

.. He paid her a sizable sum, according to two people familiar with the confidential payment. In exchange, she made a legally binding promise to never speak of their encounter again.

.. Ms. Battilana, who declined an interview request, recently told Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper that she struggled to get work after the case was over and that the fashion world closed its doors on her.

“What happened to me really put my view of the world to the test,” she said.

With a flood of accusers coming forward, she said she hoped that it “will bring me justice.”